From Copernicus to E.T. (and why it matters)

The Science and Society Speaker Series welcomed Dr. Dennis Danielson on Feb. 25 at the Kalamalka Campus Lecture Theater of Okanagan College. Danielson, professor and head of English at the University of British Columbia, present a thought-provoking lecture, From Copernicus to E.T. (and why it matters).

Thirty-five years ago Stephen Hawking and George Ellis wrote that “Since the time of Copernicus we have been steadily demoted to a medium sized planet going round a medium sized star on the outer edge of a fairly average galaxy, which is itself simply one of a local group of galaxies. Indeed we are now so democratic that we would not claim that our position in space is specially distinguished in any way,” (The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, 1973).

Starting with Copernicus and working towards E.T., Danielson’s lecture will re-examine the history of modern reflections about earth’s (including humankind’s) place and possible meaning within the universe. By means of some science history—along with a few modern thought experiments—Danielson suggests that the lessons of science concerning our unimaginably immense cosmos need not be as humanly depressing as we are sometimes led to believe.

Danielson is an intellectual historian with interests in the Renaissance and in the history, literature, and cultural meaning of science. His anthology—The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking—was named to’s “Editor’s Choice” top 10 science books for the year 2000. In 2006 his biography of Copernicus’s sole student and “apostle” appeared as The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution.

 Danielson has published articles in American Journal of Physics, Nature, Journal for the History of Astronomy, and American Scientist, and has lectured in North America, Europe, China, and South Africa.

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